Battle of Saticula, 343

The battle of Saticula (343 B.C.) was a Roman victory that saw a rare example of the Roman army fighting at night in an attempt to avoid a disaster.

At the start of the First Samnite War the Romans sent their two Consular armies against the Samnites. While Valerius Corvus went to Campania, Cornelius Arvina crossed into Samnium and camped at Saticula. He then began an advance into the mountains, an area where the Samnites would inflict a number of defeats on the Romans. On this occasion the Roman army marched over a mountain pass into a narrow valley, without realising that the Samnites were hiding on the heights above the valley.

Once the Romans had descended into the valley the Samnites came out of hiding, causing something of a panic in the army below. The situation was saved by Publius Decius Mus, a military tribune, who noticed an unoccupied peak behind the Samnite lines. He asked Cornelius Arvina to give him the hastate and principes from one of the legions (2,400 men). Decius and his detachment then marched back up the pass, and managed to reach the high point before they were detected.

The Samnites were now in a tricky situation. If they attempted to attack the Consul in the valley they would be exposed to attack from above, while the hill Decius Mus had occupied was a strong defence position, and would have been difficult to attack. Opinion in the Samnite camp was divided, with some wanting to surround the Romans on the hill and some wanting to leave a way open for them to leave the hill, and thus expose themselves to ambush.

Night fell before they had made up their mind, leaving the Romans only partly surrounded on the hill. Decius Mus took advantage of this, and overnight led his men through the Samnite lines, and early on the next day rejoined the main army.

Soon after reunited, the Roman army attacked the Samnites, who were still scattered around the now unoccupied hill. Caught by surprise, the Samnites suffered a heavy defeat, although it is unlikely that they suffered the 30,000 casualties recorded by Livy.

Despite avoid the Samnite trap Cornelius Arvina is not recorded as having advanced any further into the mountains of Samnium. The final battle of the campaign, at Suessula in Campania, would be fought by Valerius Corvus.

Roman Conquests: Italy, Ross Cowan. A look at the Roman conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the series of wars that saw Rome transformed from a small city state in central Italy into a power that was on the verge of conquering the ancient Mediterranean world. A lack of contemporary sources makes this a difficult period to write about, but Cowan has produced a convincing narrative without ignoring some of the complexity.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 November 2009), Battle of Saticula, 343 ,

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